For 25 years Central Albertans have laced up their sneakers and opened their wallets in support of the annual Jayman Build MS Walk held on Sunday.
And what a difference community funding has made to improve the lives of those living with multiple sclerosis.
“Twenty five years ago when we started doing walks there was not even an injectable type of disease modification drug. Now there’s several and now there’s even two or three pill format so research has really come a long way to modify the disease,” said Lorraine Evans-Cross, regional director of the Central Alberta chapter of the MS Society of Canada.
The annual walk from Great Chief Park is the chapter’s signature event that raises money for research and local programs.
“This walk does really make an impact. Every step we take does make a difference.”
The goal on Sunday was to raise $170,000.
MS is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that can cause extreme fatigue, balance issues, weakness, tingling, impaired vision and other symptoms.
About 14,000 Albertans live with MS.
“That is the highest prevalence in Canada and Canada has the highest prevalence in the world.”
Evans-Cross said the rate of MS is very high in Central Alberta with between 700 and 800 cases known to the local chapter.
“I don’t know if we’re having more MS being diagnosed. I believe our diagnostics abilities are getting better so we’re able to understand and pinpoint a diagnosis earlier. Having an earlier diagnosis, a lot of our clients are able to go onto disease modification drugs to modify the course of their disease.”
MS typically strikes people age 15 to 40, with more women affected.
Kelly Vanderzwan, 55, of Red Deer, was diagnosed with MS in January 2002 and did her first walk that year.
“Doing the walk or contributing to someone who is walking is empowering. It makes you feel like you’re doing something. When you feel like you’re doing something, you don’t feel as helpless or hopeless,” Vanderzwan said.
Since 2003 she has walked with a team that has raised just under $85,000 since 2003.
Their goal is to reach $100,000 by the 2016 walk.
She said campaigning for donations and walking showed her how many families are affected by MS.
“When I was diagnosed I didn’t know anyone or anything. The only thing I knew about it was that it was a devastating illness. You became crippled and then you died. They couldn’t do anything for you. So it was terrifying to get that diagnosis.
“I called MS my secret. My children didn’t know for three or four months. My parents didn’t know. It almost a year before I told them.”
But disease modifying medication and focusing on a healthy lifestyle keeps Vanderzwan moving forward.
“My hobby is the dogs. We go hiking on the trails. We go down to the river. I’ll spend a whole afternoon down there with them. Stress reduction is huge.”